Editorial: Barriers prevent contraceptives from being accessible to U.S. citizens

On March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act was primarily meant to extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, it also required insurers and employers to include birth control in their coverage. However, in recent years, states and the Trump-Pence administration have made many attempts to diminish the availability of birth control for women.

Contraceptives need to be more readily accessible to all citizens in order to promote planned pregnancies and treat a variety of women’s health concerns.

According to the Center for Total Health, the Supreme Court ruled that birth control was legal for all women across the U.S. in 1972. However, currently only one in 50 women have access to the full range of birth control methods. Furthermore, more than a third of female voters said that they have struggled to afford prescription birth control during their life and have used birth control inconsistently as a result, according to Planned Parenthood. 

Contraceptives are necessary to prevent unplanned pregnancies and ensure that both the baby and the mother are healthy. According to Proof Alliance, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are already unintended. Unplanned pregnancies are related to delayed prenatal care, decreased number of prenatal care visits, and increased risk of maternal depression and anxiety, and even cost taxpayers an estimated $21 billion in 2010, including costs for prenatal care, labor and delivery, postpartum care, and one year of infant care. Not only would the use of contraceptives curb the high number of unintended pregnancies that result in health complications for the baby and mother, it would also help reduce the reliance on tax funds if parents were prepared to financially support their child during and after pregnancy.

While preventing unplanned pregnancies was the original intention of contraceptives, hormonal birth control can be used for a number of non-contraceptive benefits in women’s health. According to Reproductive Facts, hormonal birth control can be made of either progestin or estrogen, hormones produced during the menstrual cycle, which can be used to treat many medical problems. Birth control pills alone can be used to treat painful periods, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome, acne, hair loss, anemia, and ovarian and uterine cancer, and more. With the important role that contraceptives play in general medical practices, especially when treating certain cancers, they need to be more readily accessible to patients. While some treatments with birth control seem nonessential, like acne or hair loss, birth control can be vital in ensuring a person can function on a day to day basis.

Although employers were initially required to cover all contraceptives approved by the FDA under the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood reports that state-level refusal laws allowed employers to be exempted if birth control goes against their moral and religious beliefs. Refusal laws even allow health care workers to deny patients access to services like birth control, abortion and sterilization that are contrary to their personal religious and moral belief.

Supporters of these laws argue that religious and moral beliefs prevent health care workers from providing certain services. However, in at least 26 states, women have been refused birth control at the pharmacy, including rape survivors seeking time-sensitive emergency contraceptives, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Furthermore, the NWLC reports that those same pharmacies often refuse to also transfer a prescription or transfer the patient to another pharmacy. Medical treatment should be accessible to all citizens in any state no matter the healthcare provider’s moral or religious affiliation. Not only is it cruel to patients to withhold available medical attention, but it is also dangerous to prevent them from seeking that help elsewhere.

Birth control plays a large part in not only preventing unplanned pregnancies, but in women’s health in general. The cost and legal barriers that are put between women and contraceptives need to be removed for women to receive the medical help that they need. Legislation, like the Affordable Care Act, is necessary in allowing all women to have equal access when it comes to birth control.